A former minister has said a ban on older people leaving their homes as the rest of the country surfaces from lockdown would be “age discrimination”.
Baroness Ros Altmann, 64, said using age-based criteria to lift restrictions would send a message that older people’s lives “don’t count in the same way as others”.
Comedian Sir Michael Palin, 76, agreed in a separate interview that age restrictions would be “very difficult and very wrong and very unfair”.
NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said on Friday that officials are considering whether stricter measures will still apply to the elderly when lockdown is eased.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Baroness Altmann said: “I think using an age-based criteria is fundamentally wrong and would potentially cost the lives of many people, and risk social unrest.”
Risk going to prison
The life peer said many elderly people have only accepted lockdown conditions “because everyone else has got to do it,” and “lots of them” have said they would “risk going to prison” rather than continue isolating.
She added “nobody would dream” of applying restrictions on the basis of skin colour, despite a higher death rate among BAME people.
“It’s not OK to discriminate on grounds of gender, or obesity, or colour of skin, but everybody is saying, let’s think about somehow discriminating on the basis of age,” she said.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Sir Michael said: “I think it’s a difficult call every time but you’ve got to be more selective here, because there are a great deal, a great number, of people in their 70s who are very active, very thoughtful, who’ve got lots of ideas, can contribute to our recovery.
“And I think that to treat them all as people who have to be sort of kept out of sight is going to be very difficult and very wrong and very unfair on a lot of people who want to help.”
On the subject of care homes, Baroness Altmann said people “certainly feel abandoned”, adding the Government’s handling of the pandemic in care homes is “potentially an extension of this ageist attitude”.
She said: “What this crisis has done is highlight the way the NHS has pushed out the focus on social care.
“We have focused on freeing up capacity in the NHS, we now have tens of thousands of spare beds across hospitals, yet older people in care homes who could and should be looked after in a hospital setting have been thrown back into the care system at the mercy of councils and local authorities.”
BMA Council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said quarantining people “based solely on age” would be “both unethical and illegal”.
“Any moves to do this could only be justified if it were to protect individuals themselves, their families and the wider public,” he said.